Sistema La Escalera
Costa Norte, Dominican Republic
Sistema La Escalera is comprised of two very different looking cave systems, Cueva de los Murcielagos and Cueva La Escalera, these are connected together through a huge dry cave with no outside access.
After driving up the road and passing through the Calleron de la Loma, the scenery changes instantly. It goes from a small but busy coastal town to a deep, lush tropical rainforest within 100 meters, literally.
To gain access to the cave you need to climb down a dry cave, there are two tight restrictions each with metal ladders and once these are passed the cave opens up and is fairly big and decorated and comes fully stocked with bats, tarantulas and big whip scorpions. There are two sumps, but the only one with going cave is on the right side and easily missed. You must climb down a near vertical rock pile 6-7 meters down and then you are at the edge of the small sump. It goes down below water vertically, to a very decorated room, and at 8 meters the line Tees off right. Following the line straight, takes you through a restriction made up of collapsed stalactites, and then to a tunnel that gradually gets bigger. After swimming this you eventually get to a very large highly decorated room, the ceiling is full of eroded "potholes" and the stalactites look like weird African sculptures. The line makes a large loop around the room, at the far end there is a breakdown tunnel that through a few restrictions goes up to an air pocket with no exit and potentially bad air. Swimming around the room and closing the loop takes about 20 mins and the depth is fairly constant at 14 meters. Taking the T right from the exit, the cave is very different, it turns into a big breakdown cave with numerous boulders and slabs just waiting to fall, it looks very unstable.
This leads to a big room and at the far end through a series of twisting restrictions you surface into a massive dry cave.
Taking off your gear and climbing out to get a feel for the place is a must, the dry cave is a huge bell shaped room, the ceilings are about 25 meters high and the room is the size of a big supermarket.
There are numerous sumps and one in particular has decorations that look like they are made of chocolate, this alone is worth the trip just to see. The dry cave is highly decorated around the edges with crystal flow stones and cave bacon that is truly awesome, there is no exit through the dry cave. At the far end there is a big pool of crystal clear water, under this at the far side there is a tight SM only restriction, the line here leads to La Escalera, a connection made by Dave Pratt in early 2013.
La Escalera side:
To gain access to the water you need to climb down a 15 meter high ladder, once at the bottom you still need to walk down about another 10-15 meters of vertical cave before reaching the waters edge.
The dry cave is quite big and very decorated however some rocks are very loose and unstable so really watch where you step as you make your way down. Underwater La Escalera is very different to the Murcielagos side, here the cave appears much more eroded and in some parts the ceilings are marked with cylindrical holes some as deep as 4 feet.
La Escalera is less decorated than Murcielagos however the erosion process here has created shapes and impressive looking ceiling formations that are unique in the Dominican Republic.
This cave system not only offers an epic dive but also the full exotic jungle dry cave experience as a bonus. It has two completely different sides and a very weird vibe, and really crazy looking decorations, the big connection dry cave is alone worth the trip just to see. You need permission from the national park to dive here. The local people in the area are very friendly and you will always find kids who will carry gear and tanks down for about 200 pesos each and believe me it is well worth it. Keep in mind that although the flooded parts are very large the dry cave in Murcielaogos has two tight restrictions which would make carrying doubles down extremely difficult if not impossible.